These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
I like theology.
Okay, you got me. I kind of love it. When I'm supposed to be doing school work I'm probably instead looking up articles, perusing books in our home office, or browsing blogs. If I'm working by myself during the day, I'll more than likely be reading papers and write-ups from my iPhone during breaks. I've been known to accumulate thoughts on a notepad, electronic or otherwise, of matters I'd like to further research. While I don't necessarily retain everything I come across, I enjoy the endeavour regardless - and I'm certain that in spite of how much I remember, I'm still learning something. I enjoy the pursuit of theological knowledge - it's a deeply satisfying passed time and diversion - and serves to bolster up my faith and help me along life's journey as a Jesus-follower.
'Crucifixion,' or 'Golgotha,'
by Nikolai Nikolajewitsch Ge (1893)
Everyone does theology to some degree. Anybody who's had questions, looked for answers, and thought about anything pertaining to God has done theology. It is an intellectual pursuit that often plays into - and in fact should inform - our physical actions. But it is a mental exercise, nevertheless, and an academic vocation to which I one day hope to contribute.
Yesterday morning my wife and I joined my father and brother at a Good Friday breakfast and tenebraeten-eh-bray.
Latin for shadows, or darkness. service. It is a somber service done every year, intentionally mimicking a funeral by way of the food provided. The service itself, which follows the simple meal of bread and cheese, consists of communion and readings from the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion - all with the lights out and only candles to illuminate the room (well, and the pianist's lamp). At the end of each reading, a candle is blown out according to a corresponding theme (i.e., Shadow of Denial, Shadow of Crucifixion, etc.). The service ends in contemplative darkness.
As I sat there, I found I had to consciously quiet my mind. Instead of weighing in my head whether that particular song was portraying correct theology, or pondering the ramifications of atonement models apart from the Passover paradigm, I had to force myself to simply let those sublime words of the Gospel according to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John wash over me. I had to free myself of preoccupations and concentrate on the final days of Jesus.
I had to remove presuppositions and make myself hear Peter deny his rabbi with whom He vehemently vowed to die. I had to focus without presumption on the abondonment, frustration, interrogations, and beatings Jesus underwent as a result of all our stupidity and selfishness. I had to be still and listen to Him cry Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani in the agony of torture, despair and possibly confusion - and to His loud sigh of final breath.
Theology, as I see it, is an important work: it aids in the understanding of the mysteries of Adonai, and helps us put into words and practise what we're taught throughout the Scriptures. But every now and then I think it's important to step back and take a look at what it is we're analysing, what it is we're studying. It's vitally important to know the stories intimately and not only academically. It is important to relate to the sights, the smells, and the emotions - and to not get caged in the doctrines, the theories, and the debates over interpretations.
My friend, and at the time pastor, told me on the outset of my undergraduate studies that I should be cautious to not lose sight of the forest for want of the trees - to not allow theology to make the Bible merely another textbook for picking apart unattached and dispassionately for the Bible is the story of Adonai's presence among humanity throughout the history of the world. It is the story of a personal God - and it is the story of His involvement with us, for us, and the story of our salvation.
While it has been and continues to be spiritually beneficial for me to study the doctrines and theories in pursuit of some vestige of biblical answers - I often feel near Adonai in my theolgical pursuit, as I am mentally inclined by disposition - it is also endlessly valuable to feel the weight of the darkness as Jesus hung weak and bleeding on the cross - and to shed the tears of his disciples' desperation and pain of loss.
Yes, sometimes I need to step back from all the technical work in order to see the base of the structure - and to let the experience of Adonai overwhelm me. It's hard to quiet the stirring of the mind sometimes - to halt the critical engagement and simply be, letting the words penetrate my entire being and not only my mind. It's difficult sometimes to not get so caught up in the thoughts and simply let the narrative of Adonai touch me. But when the darkness falls, and the quiet words 'It is finished' are spoken... Well, sometimes it causes me to tremble.